Detroit — It’s Take 2 against the Bulls.
In a scheduling anomaly, the Pistons are opening the regular season with consecutive games against the same opponent. They took the Bulls down to the final minute in Wednesday’s opener at home, and they’ll try to turn things around in their first road game of the season.
The game plan will be pretty much the same in the rematch — find a way to slow down Bulls All-Star guard Zach LaVine, who had 34 points on Wednesday.
“You do have to have a team mentality and try to make him work to catch it. He can’t just sashay over and catch the ball and go where he wants to go,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said Friday. “You’ve got to make sure he works to catch it, and he’s got to feel bodies on him to get open to make a play. Physicality without fouling is huge.
“Any great scorer like that in our league, you’re not going use one (defender). The best defender in our league is not going to stop him from scoring. What you want to do is try to slow him down and break his rhythm as much as possible.”
The Pistons used Frank Jackson and Hamidou Diallo, among others, to try to slow LaVine.
It didn’t seem to matter. LaVine shot 11-for-17 from the field and made all 11 of his free throws. That’s about par for the course for LaVine, who averaged 27.4 points and shot a career-best 42% on 3-pointers last season.
The Bulls, who added veterans DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in the offseason and center Nikola Vucevic at the trade deadline last year, are poised to make a big jump in the Eastern Conference, potentially from not making the playoffs at all to maybe a top-five seed.
When adding so many new players to the starting lineup and the playing rotation, there are typically some growing pains, but the initial indications are that the Bulls could jell a little faster than other teams.
“What’s going to help them come together quicker is Caruso,” Casey said. “You’ve got the experience factor and it won’t take them as long to figure it out.”
DeRozan is a big addition on the offensive end as well, giving the Bulls another big-time scorer to complement LaVine and Vucevic with a mid-range game that will keep defenses on their toes.
Casey knows DeRozan’s game all too well from their time together in Toronto but trying to slow down his former player isn’t easy at all. It’s a similar defensive headache like guarding LaVine.
“You’ve got to make sure he feels you, because he is such an effective mid-range shooter. The way DeMar gets you is he gets to the free-throw line,” Casey said. “He’s one of the great guys in our league of drawing fouls. So that is what propels his mid-range shooting and efficiency and then plus the fact that he does get pump-fakes and get to the free-throw line.
“That together helps his mid-range game. If he was just shooting mid-range shots, you wouldn’t get too excited. But he gets in there, pump-fakes you and he gets you up in the air, and now he’s at the free-throw line.”
No trip for Cunningham
Casey said that Cade Cunningham won’t make the road trip, which means he likely will miss the next three games and the earliest he probably would play would be the next home game on Oct. 30 against the Orlando Magic.
There’s no change in Cunningham’s health status with the injured ankle, and the Pistons are looking to have him fully participate in a couple of practices before putting him in a game.
The short-term solution is having Frank Jackson start in his place, and there are some positives that Jackson brings with him that the other options, Josh Jackson and Diallo, don’t.
“Shooting. His speed and quickness, his defense. I think he gives another look and he doesn’t give the length and size of a guy like Josh or Hami, but he gives you the speed and quickness, that tenacity, the pursuit, defensively,” Casey said. “No matter who we put on LaVine, I wouldn’t say they got an A-plus guarding him, but we can do a better job on some different things and try to to slow him down some. You’re not going to stop a guy like LaVine — he’s one of the great scorers in our league. We just want to make sure we try to break his rhythm in different ways.”
Pistons at Bulls
► Tip-off: 8 p.m. Saturday, United Center, Chicago
► TV/radio: BSD-plus/950
► Outlook: The Pistons stayed close in the opener, but the Bulls prevailed in the final minute, 94-88. The Pistons (0-1) start a three-game road trip and likely will be without Cade Cunningham for all three games.